Update April 2015: We are very sorry to hear that John Suchet's wife, Bonnie, has died aged 73 after a decade-long battle with dementia. Our thoughts go out to John and his family at this sad time.
In 2010, we spoke to John Suchet about caring for Bonnie. Our interview follows below:
For millions, John Suchet was the face of ITV News for more than 30 years, but his own personal story is one of devotion, despair, fury and frustration.
Still very much in love after 25 years of marriage, TV newsreader John Suchet was horrified to discover, in 2006, that his adored wife Bonnie had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 64.
Within months he found himself transformed from lover and companion to carer and home help.
It was a scenario every middle-aged and older couple dreads, and it placed an enormous strain on them both.
The low point came shortly before John reluctantly decided the time had come for Bonnie to go into full-time residential care. He was due to leave their London flat to do some filming at ITN when Bonnie suddenly needed urgent care.
Their combined anger, panic and frustration escalated into physical assault.
‘The guilt was overwhelming,’ John writes in his recently published book, 'My Bonnie: how dementia stole the love of my life'. ‘If our roles were reversed and Bonnie was looking after me, she’d be making a better job of it. I did reach a stage where I thought she’d be better off without me.’
John was pulled back from the brink by the intervention of an Admiral Nurse, Ian Weatherhead, a trained healthcare professional with specialist knowledge of caring for dementia sufferers. Unlike the widely available Macmillan Nurses who help cancer victims and carers, there are only 70 Admiral Nurses in the whole country.
Losing his temper
‘They concentrate on the carer,’ says John. ‘Ian helped me understand my behaviour, that it was OK to lose my temper. It worked for me having a man because I could say anything to him, man to man, and use the kind of language I wouldn’t have used with a woman.’
Now Bonnie is being looked after by full-time carers. She still recognises him, knows his name and wells up when she sees him approach. Yet John is amazed that she has never questioned either her condition or her relocation to a care home.
‘Since she went into the home in September last year she hasn’t asked me where she is, why she isn’t at home, nothing. And yet, if she were here now, you wouldn’t know to look at her there was anything wrong with her.’
John wrestles every day with the impossible situation of grieving for someone who is still alive and fully functioning. Judging by his pained expression and hesitancy to talk about it, the whole concept of ‘moving on’ is not one he is willing or able to embrace.
However he is determined, in his newly acquired role as patron of Dementia UK, to raise the profile of Admiral Nurses. To this end he has helped establish the Admiral Nurse Academy, which Dementia UK is naming in honour of Bonnie Suchet. The academy opened officially in May 2010.
'My Bonnie: How dementia stole the love of my life' by John Suchet is published by HarperCollins.
To find out more about Admiral Nurses visit the Admiral Nurse Academy or Dementia UK websites, or call Admiral Nurse Direct on 0845 257 9406.
Age UK's Disconnected Mind project carries out once-in-a-lifetime research into cognitive decline.
Find out more about the Disconnected Mind project